« Begging for snarky captions | Main | A challenge to those who claim that the SwiftVets' allegations have been "debunked" or are "unsubstantiated" »

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Kerry's no Ike

In 1952, the incumbent President was not running for re-election, but the nation seemed bogged down in a frustrating war on the Korean peninsula — one that had see-sawed from near hopelessness around the Pusan pocket, to what might be termed "catastrophic success" after MacArthur's Inchon landing and American troops' advance almost to the Yalu River, to a humiliating retreat from the Chosin Reservoir after Red Chinese troops poured across their borders, and into a bloody stalemate along the 38th Parallel.  America had suffered almost 37,000 KIAs in the first three years of fighting in Korea; the new President would have to decide between withdrawal, continuing the stalemate, escalation (possibly including use of atomic weapons), or some other course of action.

Late in the campaign, on October 24, 1952, the Republican candidate delivered a speech in Detroit that Tom Wicker describes thusly in his 2002 short biography, Dwight D. Eisenhower (bracketed portions, italics, and elipses in original; at page 16):

In earlier years, [Eisenhower] had seemed to support President Truman's "police action" in Korea and also had approved Truman's decision to fire Eisenhower's old boss, General Douglas MacArthur.  Now, however, Eisenhower declared that immediately after the election, he would "concentrate on the job of ending the Korean war.... [T]hat job requires a personal trip to Korea.  I shall make that trip .... I shall go to Korea."

Ike the inexperienced campaigner had made one of the decisive strokes in American political history.  He carefully had not said what he would do about Korea, other than to see the war for himself, thus establishing at the outset his characteristic policy of "keeping his options open."  But from the hero of World War II, less than two weeks before the election, his mere pledge to "go to Korea" all but finished Stevenson and the Democrats.  Even Harry Truman, the old in-fighter in the White House, could only cry "politics" — but to little avail.

Fifty-two years later, the Democratic candidate for President is basing his campaign on the premise that America is again in a bungled military stalemate (despite the vastly shorter timeframe, one-thirty-seventh of the fatal casualties, and absence of a threat that the conflict will escalate into global nuclear war).  Like Eisenhower, John Kerry asks the American public to trust him — essentially on faith — to somehow "fix things."

Americans felt that they knew Dwight David Eisenhower — that they'd seen him tested, and liked what they'd seen, when he commanded Allied forces in Europe in their defeat of Nazi Germany.  He was elected with 55 percent of the popular vote and a 442/89 electoral college margin.  The North Koreans and their Chinese and Russian patrons rapidly backed down from their previous negotiating positions — perhaps because they thought Eisenhower would use nukes, perhaps because they knew he'd never tolerate years of stalemated conventional war — and on July 27, 1953, barely six months after Eisenhower's inauguration, an armistice was signed under the shelter of which South Korea has enjoyed a half-century of peace, liberty, and economic expansion.  Yes, there's still unfinished business on the Korean peninsula today, and the threat posed by the North Koreans is a grave one that will confront whoever wins the 2004 presidential election.  But the enormous trust conferred by the American electorate upon Eisenhower in 1952 would seem, by almost anyone's evaluation today, to have been well justified in hindsight.

The questions today, then, are these:  Do Americans, and does the world, think as highly of John Kerry's resolution and leadership abilities as they did of Dwight Eisenhower's in 1952?  Will our friends feel the same confidence in his word?  Will our enemies feel the same fear of his war-leading abilities?  Has Sen. Kerry earned, by his career accomplishments, the degree of trust that Americans gave Ike to fulfill a vague and open-ended promise of such critical importance?  Like Ike did, Sen. Kerry promises a change in course, without much detail.  American voters were willing to accept that promise, and that lack of detail, from Eisenhower.  But does John Kerry inspire that kind of blind faith, and can it be justified?

To ask that question is very nearly to answer it.  Behind the catchiest slogan in American political history — "I like Ike!" — was a profound and hard-earned trust and admiration.  Eisenhower had already won a war when he asked us to trust him.  He'd masterfully handled one of the most difficult military and political challenges of world history — benefiting, perhaps, from being "misunderestimated" at first, but ultimately winning world-wide respect and admiration.  John Kerry, by contrast, offers up a three-month combat tour as a junior officer that he bailed out of at his first opportunity, plus a consistent senatorial history as an opponent of the use of American military force, an undercutter of its and our intelligence community's strength, and a gratuitous insulter of America's best and most consistent friends abroad.

When John Kerry says, "Trust me and I'll fix things in Iraq and with the Global War on Terror" — what possible basis can you have to give him that trust, other than a faith so blind that it has become genuinely reckless?

Posted by Beldar at 05:58 AM in Global War on Terror, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Kerry's no Ike and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Doing the Heavy Lifting from Carnivorous Conservative

Tracked on Sep 28, 2004 10:21:45 AM

» Beldar Won't Like this from Burnt Orange Report

Tracked on Sep 29, 2004 10:01:14 AM


(1) Palooka made the following comment | Sep 25, 2004 6:47:14 AM | Permalink

Great post. Would have been a nice addition to talk about the similiarities to Nixon's "secret plan" to end the Vietnam conflict. It worked for him, too, right? While the difference is there (saying there is a plan versus keeping options open), the ambiguity and reliance on trust is the same. Maybe Nixon benefitted from being Ike's VP? Maybe his history of being tough on Communists gave him more credibility?

(2) dan made the following comment | Sep 25, 2004 7:41:20 AM | Permalink

I'm wary of Kerry!

I guess that's a negative slogan.

(3) Todd made the following comment | Sep 25, 2004 8:54:24 AM | Permalink

That or "Kerry is scary!"

(4) Kalle Barfot made the following comment | Sep 25, 2004 10:11:17 AM | Permalink

A fundamental difference between Eisenhower and Kerry is that the former won a World War against a totalitarian enemy -- while the latter promoted and ensured the defeat of South Vietnam and the USA by a totalitarian enemy.

(5) Dave Schuler made the following comment | Sep 25, 2004 4:16:49 PM | Permalink

In my post Half empty or half full? I contrasted Kerry and Eisenhower. One difference: Eisenhower was the un-political candidate and scarcely mentioned his opponent (Adlai Stevenson) at all.

(6) Carol Herman made the following comment | Sep 25, 2004 4:23:09 PM | Permalink

And, Ike was no Patton! Some day history will right a terrible wrong. Patton was our best WW2 general. But he wasn't "political" (that goes to IKE, not he). And, because Patton was marginalized the war in Europe was colored in more blood of dead Americans than had to be ...

Kerry is now at the tail end of all the freak things politicians can do. And, God help us, if he wins, or if the cheaters are gonna do something to tell us he won. While the lights go out.

(7) Jammer made the following comment | Sep 25, 2004 4:51:32 PM | Permalink

Carol, Patton was no doubt America's best fighting general, but give Ike his due. He had to keep a lid on Patton, assorted other American prima-donnas, Montgomery and the Brits, plus de Gualle the Free French.

Some days I think Ike was fighting TWO wars; one against the Nazis, and another in his own HQ.

(8) akmdave made the following comment | Sep 25, 2004 8:36:25 PM | Permalink


I agree that Kerry looks even more like Nixon, since he too had a "secret plan." Reasons it worked for Nixon, that the public wanted a change, most of which do not apply to Kerry:

1) Many more killed in Vietnam.
2) More years in Vietnam.
3) Escalating troop counts and escalating casualty rates in Vietnam, through Jan 1968. (Troop counts in Iraq basically flat, casualty rates fluctuating, arguably with some upward trend.)
4) S. Vietnamese leaders were puppets, earlier switched in a coup supported by JFK 1st. (Bush's enemies may see Allawi as a puppet, but Bush clearly aims for a January election.)
5) Because of #3 and #4, things seemed to be worsening in Vietnam, with no particular target for improvement. (Except for those who realized that Tet was a Vietcong defeat, but who ignored declinign US morale.)
6) Johnson wasn't running. His VP was.
7) Johnson wasn't running, even though he could have, and this was widely seen as his giving up because he felt Vietnam was a lost cause.

The comments to this entry are closed.